Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 15, 2017

Tradition vs. safety: Preps tackle timely foe

On a recent Friday night, a tough and talented receiver for Ringgold High School named Andre Tarver, was doing his job.

Having run his pass route, he saw his quarterback pull down the ball and scramble towards the near sideline with two Fannin County Rebels in hot pursuit. Tarver did not hesitate.

The 6-2, 190-pound receiver came back towards the line of scrimmage and planted his shoulder pad between the numbers of linebacker Mason Rhodes and put him on the turf. Rhodes, himself a 6-0, 215-pounder, bounced up immediately.

For the last 60 years, Tarver would have gotten a pat on the rear for protecting his QB with a clean hit. But this is 2017, and the rules have changed.

Tarver was flagged for an illegal crackback block on a “defenseless player” and was socked with a 15-yard penalty. Almost no one in the stands saw an infraction because veteran viewers of the game are used to seeing that play under previous rules.

For his part, Ringgold head coach Robert Akins agreed that the new rule was correctly interpreted on that play, and Tarver was taken aside to explain why he did something wrong that felt so right.

“It’s a judgment call on what constitutes a defenseless player,” Akins said the following Monday after watching the game film of the play. “I agree it was called correctly on that play. But my issue with it has been from the beginning is the inconsistency in the way it has been called.

“I’m watching game film from Adairsville last year, and there were two clear hits on defenseless players that were not called,” the coach continued. “I understand the emphasis on concussions and the need to protect players, but no rule works if it isn’t enforced consistently.”

‘A forceful block’

In February, the high school rule book changed the definition of a crackback or blindside block. The definition of a blindside block is “a block against an opponent other than the runner, who does not see the blocker approaching.”

Further, the new rule says a blindside block “involves contact by a blocker against an opponent who, because of physical positioning and focus of concentration, is vulnerable to injury. Unless initiated with open hands, it is a foul for excessive and unnecessary contact when the block is forceful and outside of the free-blocking zone.”

A “forceful block” is interpreted as a block that knocks somebody off their feet.

The wrinkle is that even that block, properly administered, is still a 15-yard penalty if the runner fails to see the defender. And therein lies part of the problem. Does a player have to see the whites of their eyes before he can execute a block?

Well, yes.

“We took Andre aside and explained to him that he has to have his hands open and extended,” Akins said. “That’s all you can do.”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Here are some of the cobblestones that brought us to this point:

In 2012, the helmet rule was adopted and enforced. Because players were often choosing comfort over safety and wearing loose-fitting helmets, the rule came into being that required that any player losing his helmet during a play must leave the game for a play, or until his helmet is properly refitted. This common-sense rule was a big success, but it suddenly made players more confident hitting and tackling by “leading with the head.”

That led to …

In May of 2013, the NFL adopted the following rule, and all other levels of football soon followed: “A ban on a ball carrier initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field or by a defender while making a tackle.”

A 15-yard penalty will be called if a runner or a tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle-to-tackle and from 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent would not be deemed a foul.

Just that quickly, one of the most brutal elements of football went away. Spearing, sticking, call it what you will, disappeared overnight, and with it a breed of players like Jack Tatum and Fred Williamson who relied on fear and pain over technique and fundamentals.

But the powers that be did not stop there.

Rules that took much of the kamikaze element out of onsides kicks were passed, requiring at least four players to be lined up on each side of the kicker. A year earlier, rules designed to minimize the wedge and the busting of one were instituted.

What’s next? You can bet your chinstrap that kickoffs will be eliminated altogether from college football since virtually every team has a kicker who can bury kickoffs through the end zone with ease. More and more, high schools are finding them, as well.

Andy Griffith made an early claim to fame with a bumpkin description of witnessing a football game for the first time in “What It Was, Was Football.” The game he described back in the 1950s no longer resembles football in today’s concussion-conscious world.

Is it a better game? Wrong question, because it doesn’t matter if it is or it isn’t.

The correct question: Are the changes through with football, and if not, will it still be football when it’s done?

On Football Gambling

We can only roll our eyes and wonder when we hear that people bet large sums of money on NFL exhibition football games. The money is real but the games are not. Not quite sure how to reconcile that.

More grounded in reality are those who wait until the start of college football to begin betting their hard-earned mortgage money. (Hopefully, my sarcasm is evident.)

Please consider these Week One outcomes before you pick up your phone to call 1-800-URIDIOT to place that sure thing bet:

Texas was an 18.5-point favorite over Maryland. Ranked and under the auspices of a new coach, the Longhorns’ suffered an epic fail. The Terps completed 12 of 15 passes and averaged six yards per carry en route to a 51-41 win. Maryland was ahead 30-14 at halftime.

UCLA was a 3.5-point favorite over Texas A&M and the over/under was set at 58 points. If you placed your bet on A&M, you did OK, even though the Aggies blew a 34-point lead, the second biggest collapse in history. That over of 89, however was not expected.

Don’t know why anyone would bet on church schools, but Baylor was a mortal lock as a 31.5-point favorite against Liberty University. For the bettors, this one went south early, but the humiliation was complete as Liberty won 48-45 with 585 total yards.

But the game that broke many and possibly saved one or two truly lucky souls was actually played in Las Vegas. As a result, heavier than usual money was bet – legally and otherwise – on the Howard vs. UNLV contest.

The Runnin’ Rebels were a tidy 45-point favorite against a Howard team that had never been a BCS level program. But with Cam Newton’s younger brother starring at quarterback, Howard posted the shocker among shockers, 43-40.

One betting site reported the staggering truth: this was, statistically the biggest upset in college football history. If someone bet $100 on Howard to win, they cleared $60,000.

Of course, no one will admit to winning, and so many losers emerged in Vegas that a few are bound to take the cure and leave gambling behind.

Just as many feel they can win that money back this week.

You never catch up. But that’s the secret gamblers don’t want you to know. Shhhhh.